MITCHELL BENCHEDCAN WE EXPECT ROOKIE QB TO BE ANSWER FOR LIONS?

Here we go again. That splash you just heard was the Lions and their fans jumping back into the murky waters of a quarterback controversy. No matter which side you take in Wednesday’s bombshell announcement by coach Bobby Ross
— Scott Mitchell out, Charlie Batch in — don’t view this as a tidy answer for the Lions’ woes.

It never is.

It wasn’t when they benched Eric Hipple for Chuck Long — or was it Long for Hipple? — it wasn’t when they benched Erik Kramer for Andre Ware — or was it Ware for Kramer? — and it isn’t now. Going with a new quarterback is like going with a new roof. It takes a lot of effort, makes a lot of noise, and leaves a mess.

So here was Mitchell Wednesday morning at his locker, biting his tongue, saying, “It’s the coach’s decision. I don’t agree with it” (forget Mitchell now; he’s useless to the Lions for at least several weeks, while his feelings heal). And here was the kid, Batch, with his head shaved and his eyes wide, who not too long ago was playing Ball State and who has never taken a snap in an NFL game. And suddenly he’s the savior?

Whoo, boy. Get out your life jackets.

“I anguished over this decision,” Ross said. I believe him. He has been around long enough to know that when you bench a highly paid starting quarterback for an unproven rookie, you’re asking for trouble. We must therefore figure that Ross felt the team was already in trouble.

Or, maybe Ross couldn’t take Mitchell’s trouble anymore. I think he ran out of patience. He had urged his quarterback to improve his consistency. He had warned him about bad mechanics, footwork, throwing balls into linemen’s hands. He told him the one thing he couldn’t do was lose games with mistakes — and for the first two weeks of this season, Mitchell did just that.

Then there was the erosion of confidence from his teammates. Rumors abound of Robert Porcher screaming at Mitchell in the locker room after Sunday’s game — but big deal. Porcher plays defense. When the offensive players express doubt about Mitchell’s decision-making, as they have, then you’re in trouble. If you don’t trust your quarterback to think, you don’t trust him at all.

Throw this all in a pile, and Ross, like an exasperated parent, was out of patience. He sent Mitchell to his room. And he called on the baby of the family to do the chores.

Splish, splash. We’re back in the water.

Clamor nothing new

Now, I know many people have been clamoring for Batch with every Mitchell error. This is nothing new. When a team struggles, the fans’ favorite quarterback is always the guy sitting on the bench. It was that way with Chuck Long, remember? And with Andre Ware. And when they got in to play, suddenly those same fans had to listen to a lot of “Give him time; he’s young; he’s going to make those mistakes.”

Lions fans must be prepared for that now. I know Ross thinks a lot of Batch, 23, but inexperience is inexperience.

“Charlie is not typical,” Ross said. “It’s not typical when you ask a rookie,
‘What did you see on that play?’ — as I did all preseason and in practice — and he gives you an answer, and when you look at the film, sure enough, he was right. He’s got maturity beyond his years.”

Maybe. But answering questions is one thing; playing against seething, brutal, ready-to-kill NFL defenses is another. If Batch, as a newcomer, doesn’t have problems, he would be the first. Are we forgetting that Peyton Manning, a can’t-miss superstar from a big-time college program, has already thrown six interceptions in his first two NFL games? Are we forgetting that John Elway was so bad in his first year, fans nearly booed him into oblivion? And these are guys, with all due respect, who came with higher pedigrees than Batch, a second-round pick from Eastern Michigan.

So either you believe that history will be rewritten by Batch, starting this Sunday, or you buckle up for a bumpy ride. I’m not talking about one game. Anyone can have one good game — especially when the opponent hasn’t seen you on film. I’m talking about the long haul here. The season. And that’s what this is about, folks. Make no mistake. Mitchell will never be the same. The longer he sits, the longer he becomes a $5-million-a-year mistake. And Frank Reich, who last month wasn’t even in the league, is now your starter if Batch gets hurt or goes bad.

“This is not a short-term fix,” Ross said, “we’re in it for the long run.”

Splish, splash.

Defending Mitchell

Now, let me say this in defense of Mitchell. He gets brutalized by fans and media because 1) His mistakes, when he makes them, are so glaring, and 2) His personality often comes across as petulant and uninspiring. The fact is, he has had some great games for the Lions, and when he isn’t cocking his arm six times, he can throw a mean pass. Last Sunday, he had a pretty decent game until he made those terrible interceptions.

Besides, the problem with the Lions isn’t the quarterback position. It’s the defense, with its ineffective secondary, and less-than-stellar pass rush and linebackers. It’s the special teams, which have already allowed two touchdowns in two games. It’s the lack of big-time playmakers.

But quarterback gets the most attention. So Batch will be center stage now, as he was Wednesday with a mob of reporters.

I’ll say this for the kid: His emotions are controlled.

“Did Coach Ross call you last night?” he was asked.

“Yeah. But Tuesday’s my day off,” he said. “I don’t answer the phone.”

“Did you get a message?”

“Yeah. On my machine. But when I checked it, it was 11 o’clock. And like I said, it’s my day off.”

“Did you lose sleep wondering what he was calling you about?”

“No, I didn’t lose no sleep. I figured it could only be one of two things. Either turn in your playbook, or you’re gonna be the starter.”

Maybe the kid has nerves of steel. I hope the fans do. The fact is, after a few years of blissful surety at quarterback, we’re back in the waters of change. Nothing to do but see who sinks and who swims.

To leave a message for Mitch Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.

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